By; SUNDAY ODE, Abuja
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the establishment of a new anti-corruption agency named Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency.
Accordingly, FEC at a virtual session on Wednesday at the presidential villa, Abuja, okayed the transmission of a bill: “Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill,” to the National Assembly.
The approval followed the presentation of a memo on the subject matter to the council by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting, the minister explained that the agency was necessary to mange assets that constitute proceeds of crimes as he pointed out that previous proceeds of crime were scattered in different and multiple agencies.
He said: “The Federal Ministry of Justice presented to Council a memo today. The Council memo is about a Bill which will seeks the approval of the Council to transmit to the National Assembly for passage. It is Proceeds of Crime Recovery and management Agency Bill.
“It is in essence a bill that is targeted and intended to have in place a legal and institutional framework. The legal component of it is having a law. And the institutional component of it is to have an agency that will be saddled with the responsibility of managing the assets that constitute the proceeds of crime in Nigeria.
“What happens before now is the proceeds of crime are scattered all over, and mostly in the hands of different and multiple agencies of government inclusive of the police, the DSS, EFCC, and ICPC.
“So, with that kind of arrangement which is ad-hoc, there is no agency of government that is saddled with the responsibility of data generation, an agency that can give you off-head the number of landed assets, number of immovable assets, the amount in cash that are recovered by the federal government by way of interim forfeiture overweigh of afinal forfeigture.
“So, it is indeed overtime a kind of arrangement that is not uniform and consistent.”
Malami pointed out that the new law sought to move the fight against corruption to the next level.
“Next level of transparency, next level of accountability in essence, will have in place an agency of government that is exclusively responsible for anything proceeds of crime.
“A one-stop shop arrangement by which all the assests that are recovered arising from crimes that are indeed vested in the federal government, you have a one-stop arrangenet where you can have an information. As it is for example, the Federal Ministry of Justice is only in a position to account and giving comprehensive account of whatrecoveries were made by the ministry.
“But any recovery made by the police, DSS, the Ministry of Justice is not in a position to know. So, for the purpose of decision making and policy, the federal government is not in a position to have a wholistic appreciation.
“So, by the bill that is now presented for the consideration of the council, we’ll have a law that establishes an agency, and secondly, an agency.
“And as you rightly know, Mr President has sanctioned ever since he came on board, that there should be a budget line, a budget item for recovered assets.
“So, if you have a budget item for recovered assets, this agency will now be in a position to provide information to the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning on demand as to what amount is available for budget purposes, thereby establishing the desired transparency, the desired accountability which has not been available before now.
“So, it is about a memo that seeks to establish a legal framework, that seeks to establish institutional framework, that seeks to further take the fight against corruption to the next level by way of establishing transparency, accountability and making the possibility of forfeiture a proceeds of crime easy through the sanctioning of non-conviction based forfeiture among others,” the Minister added.
Asked whether the bill stemmed from his experience with the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, he said it had been long in planning.
Malami further explained: “Let me take you through the history lane as far as the proceeds of crime bill is concerned. There was an attempt some time back in 2007 to present to the FEC, it was unsuccessful, the bill was not passed.
“There was further attempt in 2011 to present same bill with some material amendments, and then it did not succeed in getting the blessings of FEC. And there was a further attempt in 2019 to present the Bill and it wasn’t as well successful but it eventuallysucceeded today.
“So, perhaps to now tie it to a particular institution or particular development of 2020, I think is unfounded taking into consideration the historical antecedents relating to the bill.“
On the controversy surrounding the new gazette he issued, which has been seen as an attempt to weaken the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), he said: “The first question has to do with rules of professional conduct withparticular reference to a gazet in contention. My response is simple,that the matter is being interrogated and id make statement at theappropriate time and id say no more as far as that issue is concerned.”
Also approved by FEC was a new national policy on occupational safety and health, tagged: “National Policy on Occupational Safety 2020.”
Minister of Labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige disclosed this while briefing correspondents on his memo to FEC.
He explained that the new policy is aimed at ensuring that all workers are safe at their work places across the country, adding that it derives from provisions of the Nigerian constitution and the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention.
Ngige added: “The Federal executive Council today approved a new policy on occupational safety and health-2020. This policy is designed to make for safety and health of workers at work places.
“It derives from the main ground norm norm law of the 1999 constitution as amended, which in section 17 (3c) prescribes that the Nigerian State shall make laws and bye-laws for preservation of the health and well-being of workers in the work places; men and women at work.
“It also derives form the ILO convention 155, which Nigeria has also domesticated. Again, that talks about making the work place conducive and ensuring the health and well-being of workers.”
The Minister said the last time the policy was reviewed was 14 years ago but the new one had a review period of three years.
“The last policy we have was approved in 2006 which makes it exactly 14 years since that was approved by the Federal Executive Council and that is the policy we have been working on. But you know that 14 years is a long span in the life of any law so in the course of operation, certain issues have been thrown up, the world has gone digital, work place mechanism and hazards have been changing and it was therefore necessary that we do a new policy.
“This policy we did now is what you call repeal and replace and it takes care of all that is needed for now, for the health of Nigerian workers,* Ngige stated.
He continued: “It gives specific roles to agencies, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA,) Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA,) Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Standards Organisation of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Health.
“Everybody has his own role now because it’s a cross-cutting situation as most Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are involved.”
On the seven-day ultimatum given by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) threatening strike action, the Minister maintained that it was misplaced because it was addressed to the President of Nigerian, which he said, contravened labour laws.
He said: “The TUC issue, the seven-day ultimatum was misplaced because they were writing the President and issuing ultimatum to him.
“The President is not recognised by ILO. The competent authority for this nature of dispute in Nigeria resides in the man who oversees them, which is whoever is the Minister of Labour and Employment.”
In her remarks, Minster of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, said from the last report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Nigerian economy fared better than expected.
She said measures were being put in place to stabilize the economy and ensure that it continued to run despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “We presented a memo to council in respect of the second quarter GDP report, earlier released by the National Bureau of Statistics on the 24th of August.
“Why the memo is so dated is because there was a retreat last week and we couldn’t get scheduled as well. Still for us, the information is important and topical.
“The GDP report shows that the economy went into negative growth of -6.10% in the second quarter but that the aggregate performance for half year 2020 is -2.1%. This performance of -6.10% is a good performance in the sense that it is better than what we have projected second quarter performance to be at -7.2%.
“This performance also is a good performance because it outperformed the projections that had been done by the Brentwood institutions. But it also outperformed very developed economies of the world and also economies that are comparable to us.
“The US for example went into negative growth of 33% for the second quarter 2020 and 19% half year 2020. Similarly, the UK, Canada, Italy and several countries of the world all went into very significant negative growth.
“So, Nigeria’s economy has shown some level of resilience in this level of performance.
“We also reported to council that even though out of the 46 sectors of the economy, 30 of these sectors showed negative growth, but there were still some sectors that were growing on the positive territory.
“These sectors include agriculture as well as financial services and the ICT services. This is actually showing that even during the COVID era, there were still some sectors that stood firm and indeed were growing.
“The inflation was also reported to be moving up gradually, capital importation did not dry up despite the lockdowns and the difficulties all countries experienced. But this is reflected by the significant decline in capital importation into the country.
“Exchange rate has moved up from $326 at the beginning of the quarter to $367. Again this is reflecting some of the policies that government had to take to ensure that the economy remain in a stable condition.
“In addition to the roll out of the economic sustainability plan, which had seen us starting to implement major public works across the country, to ensure that people are employed or kept in jobs, this ESP improve support for small businesses including payroll support so that people are not finding themselves unemployed or small businesses are not closing down.
“Other interventions included intervention funds for small, medium enterprises to be able to borrow, intervention funds for health sector, intervention funds for infrastructure.
“All of these are designed to ensure continuous economic activities help to stabilize the economy. We are lucky that these things were rolled out early reducing the impact of the negative growth.”